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‘Eat Up!: Food, Appetite and Eating What You Want’ by Ruby Tandoh *****

Anyone who knows me will know what a huge fan of food I am.  I adore cooking new recipes, playing around with flavours, and visiting new restaurants.  It comes as no surprise, then, that I have wanted to read Ruby Tandoh’s Eat Up!: Food, Appetite and Eating What You Want ever since it came out.  Many will remember Tandoh from The Great British Bake Off, of which she was a contestant in 2013.

In her insightful introduction, Tandoh gives her reasoning for writing such a positive 9781781259597book about food; it directly goes against the wealth of dieting and fitness crazes which have swept the United Kingdom over the last few years.  She begins by rubbishing the often contradictory dietary advice which we hear almost daily on the news: ‘We don’t want to go hungry, we don’t want to be too greedy, we don’t want to live too exuberantly, we don’t want to be a kill-joy.  We fret about our size and shape, and too often police the bodies of others.  We accept the lie that there’s a perfect way of eating that will save your soul and send you careering blithely through your eighties, into your nineties and beyond.  Do what you want, we’re told – but you’ll die if you get it wrong.’

The main exploration in Eat Up! is ‘everything that happens in the peripheries when we take a bite: the cultures that birth the foods we love, the people we nurture, the science of flavour and the ethics of eating.’  Tandoh recognises the splendour of all food, regardless of its preparation; she shows the myriad ways in which food is directly linked with how we feel, and what we need in our lives.  ‘Not every meal,’ she writes, ‘will be in some sunlight dappled orange grove; sometimes what you need is a pasty by the side of the M4, and there’s no harm in that.’  Food can also be used as a tool in order to bring people together; it ‘transgresses the “boundaries” between here and there, us and them, me and you, until we are all just bundles of matter, eating and being eaten.’

The celebration of food is linked in with Tandoh’s own memories: the blackberry bush near her grandmother’s Essex garden; eating a huge Indian takeaway with her girlfriend when both were suffering with influenza; the food which comforted her when her grandfather died.  She also touches upon her own relationship with food in the past, and the eating disorders which she has dealt with in the past.  Eat Up! is highly revealing in this manner.  Never does it feel preachy, or as though Tandoh is hard done by in any sense; rather, it feels like sitting down and having a conversation with the very best, and most intelligent, of friends.

The history of food, and the ways in which we eat, have both been touched upon here.  The research which Tandoh has done is impeccable; facts and statistics blend seamlessly into her narrative.  So many issues are explored which can be linked to food and eating: those around weight, how we eat in public, the joy of seasonal eating, the diet industry, culture, eating trends, food as power, comfort food, and the scientific processes of digestion, amongst others.  This varied content, all of which has food at its centre, is fascinating, and makes for an incredibly engaging and coherent book.

Eat Up! is, pardon the pun, a delicious book; it is warm and understanding, and filled with love and humour.  Such positivity abounds; throughout, Tandoh cheers for the existence of every body, no matter its size or shape.  We all need to be nourished, and we need to feel happy when we eat.  In this manner, Tandoh weaves together a fascinating narrative about food, peppered with recipes for every occasion, and body positivity.  ‘The way you feel about food,’ she points out, ‘sits hand in hand with the way you feel about yourself, and if you eat happily and wholeheartedly, food will make you strong.’  I thoroughly enjoyed the reading experience of Eat Up!, and know that it’s a tome I will dip into again and again.

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Penguin Moderns: George Orwell and Gertrude Stein

Notes on Nationalism by George Orwell **** (#7) 9780241339565
George Orwell’s Notes on Nationalism is the seventh book in the Penguin Moderns series. I have read a few of his non-fiction works to date, and always find his tone engaging and his content incredibly well informed. Here, in this series of essays first published in 1945, Orwell offers ‘biting and timeless reflections on patriotism, prejudice and power, from the man who wrote about his nation better than anyone.’

Collected here are ‘Notes on Nationalism’, ‘Antisemitism in Britain’, and ‘The Sporting Spirit’. As ever with Orwell’s work, his essays feel so relevant to twenty-first century Britain – and, indeed, to many other countries. Orwell writes with such wonderful turns of phrase, and his arguments are set out logically and intelligently. Of course, it must be noted that given the year in which these essays were written, some parts of Orwell’s narrative feel very of their time, particularly with regard to some of the vocabulary which he uses to describe groups of people. Regardless, Notes on Nationalism is a thoughtful and thought-provoking collection.
9780241339688Food by Gertrude Stein * (#8)
‘From apples to artichokes, these glittering, fragmented, painterly portraits of food by the avant-garde pioneer Gertrude Stein are redolent of sex, laughter and the joy of everyday life’, proclaims the book’s blurb.

I shall begin this rather negative review by pointing out that I have not read much Stein before, save for a few fragmented pieces. Despite loving modernism as a genre, I have found those extracts of Stein’s which I have come across quite hard work to read, and a couple of them have been almost impenetrable. Food was therefore one of the books which I was looking forward to least in the Penguin Moderns collection, despite loving food and food writing.

Food was first published in Tender Buttons in 1914 and, I imagine, was just as unintelligible then as it proves to be now. Clearly Stein was pioneering in her use of language, but I do not enjoy repetitive sentences like those which fill this book, some of which appear say nothing whatsoever, and others which go on and on far longer than is necessary. From the essay on ‘Roast Beef’, for instance, Stein writes: ‘There is no use there is no use at all in smell, in taste, in teeth, in toast, in anything, there is no use at all and the respect is mutual’.

Collected here are a series of highly meandering essays, some of which are more like lists, and others which seem to evade their titular subject entirely. If this book had not been so short, I definitely would have stopped reading it quite early on, and it was definitely a source of irritation to me as it reached its end; it has been the first Penguin Modern which I have not enjoyed in the slightest. Food has, however, done one very positive thing; it has confirmed entirely that Stein is not for me.

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‘Non-Fiction for Women in Their Twenties’

Goodreads is great for list, as I’m sure the majority of its users will have found out way before now.  For those not in the know, anyone can create a list of books with a particular title or theme; others can then add books to this, and vote on it, to sort it by popularity.  I have come across some wonderful book suggestions in my time on the site, and have just come across a list entitled ‘Non-Fiction for Women in Their Twenties’.  I am one of these such creatures, and a big fan of reading non-fiction, so I thought I’d give the list a peruse and detail six books which have been added to, or moved up, my to-read list.

Of course, a lot of these books are detailed around careers, relationships, and feminism, as one might expect.  If you want to see the full list, please click here.
1. #Girlboss by Sophia Amoruso 18667945
In the New York Times bestseller that the Washington Post called “Lean In for misfits,” Sophia Amoruso shares how she went from dumpster diving to founding one of the fastest-growing retailers in the world.  Amoruso spent her teens hitchhiking, committing petty theft, and scrounging in dumpsters for leftover bagels. By age twenty-two she had dropped out of school, and was broke, directionless, and checking IDs in the lobby of an art school—a job she’d taken for the health insurance. It was in that lobby that Sophia decided to start selling vintage clothes on eBay.  Flash forward to today, and she’s the founder of Nasty Gal and the founder and CEO of Girlboss. Sophia was never a typical CEO, or a typical anything, and she’s written #GIRLBOSS for other girls like her: outsiders (and insiders) seeking a unique path to success, even when that path is windy as all hell and lined with naysayers.  #GIRLBOSS proves that being successful isn’t about where you went to college or how popular you were in high school. It’s about trusting your instincts and following your gut; knowing which rules to follow and which to break; when to button up and when to let your freak flag fly.
2. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari
A hilarious, thoughtful, and in-depth exploration of the pleasures and perils of modern romance from one of this generation’s sharpest comedic voices.  At some point, every one of us embarks on a journey to find love. We meet people, date, get into and out of relationships, all with the hope of finding someone with whom we share a deep connection. This seems standard now, but it’s wildly different from what people did even just decades ago. Single people today have more romantic options than at any point in human history. With technology, our abilities to connect with and sort through these options are staggering. So why are so many people frustrated?  Some of our problems are unique to our time. “Why did this guy just text me an emoji of a pizza?” “Should I go out with this girl even though she listed Combos as one of her favorite snack foods? Combos?!” “My girlfriend just got a message from some dude named Nathan. Who’s Nathan? Did he just send her a photo of his penis? Should I check just to be sure?”   But the transformation of our romantic lives can’t be explained by technology alone. In a short period of time, the whole culture of finding love has changed dramatically. A few decades ago, people would find a decent person who lived in their neighborhood. Their families would meet and, after deciding neither party seemed like a murderer, they would get married and soon have a kid, all by the time they were twenty-four. Today, people marry later than ever and spend years of their lives on a quest to find the perfect person, a soul mate.
178010943. How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis
While debating literature’s greatest heroines with her best friend, thirtysomething playwright Samantha Ellis has a revelation—her whole life, she’s been trying to be Cathy Earnshaw of Wuthering Heights when she should have been trying to be Jane Eyre.  With this discovery, she embarks on a retrospective look at the literary ladies—the characters and the writers—whom she has loved since childhood. From early obsessions with the March sisters to her later idolization of Sylvia Plath, Ellis evaluates how her heroines stack up today. And, just as she excavates the stories of her favorite characters, Ellis also shares a frank, often humorous account of her own life growing up in a tight-knit Iraqi Jewish community in London. Here a life-long reader explores how heroines shape all our lives.
4. The Unspeakable: and Other Subjects of Discussion by Meghan Daum
Nearly fifteen years after her debut collection, My Misspent Youth, captured the ambitions and anxieties of a generation, Meghan Daum returns to the personal essay with The Unspeakable, a masterful collection of ten new works. Her old encounters with overdrawn bank accounts and oversized ambitions in the big city have given way to a new set of challenges.  Elsewhere, she carefully weighs the decision to have children—”I simply felt no calling to be a parent. As a role, as my role, it felt inauthentic and inorganic”—and finds a more fulfilling path as a court-appointed advocate for foster children. In other essays, she skewers the marriage-industrial complex and recounts a harrowing near-death experience following a sudden illness. Throughout, Daum pushes back against the false sentimentality and shrink-wrapped platitudes that surround so much of contemporary American experience and considers the unspeakable thoughts many of us harbor—that we might not love our parents enough, that “life’s pleasures” sometimes feel more like chores, that life’s ultimate lesson may be that we often learn nothing.’
5. How to Sew a Button: and Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew by Erin 7010421Bried
Nowadays, many of us “outsource” basic tasks. Food is instant, ready-made, and processed with unhealthy additives. Dry cleaners press shirts, delivery guys bring pizza, gardeners tend flowers, and, yes, tailors sew on those pesky buttons. But life can be much simpler, sweeter, and richer–and a lot more fun, too! As your grandmother might say, now is not the time to be careless with your money, and it actually pays to learn how to do things yourself!  Practical and empowering, How to Sew a Button collects the treasured wisdom of nanas, bubbies, and grandmas from all across the country–as well as modern-day experts–and shares more than one hundred step-by-step essential tips for cooking, cleaning, gardening, and entertaining, including how to

• polish your image by shining your own shoes
• grow your own vegetables (and stash your bounty for the winter)
• sweeten your day by making your own jam
• use baking soda and vinegar to clean your house without toxic chemicals
• feel beautiful by perfecting your posture
• roll your own piecrust and find a slice of heaven
• fold a fitted sheet to crisp perfection
• waltz without stepping on any toes

Complete with helpful illustrations and brimming with nostalgic charm, How to Sew a Button provides calm and comfort in uncertain times. By doing things yourself, with care and attention, you and your loved ones will feel the pleasing rewards of a job well done.‘
6. Everything I Know About Love by Dolly Alderton
A spot-on, wildly funny and sometimes heart-breaking book about growing up, growing older and navigating all kinds of love along the way.  When it comes to the trials and triumphs of becoming a grown up, journalist and former Sunday Times dating columnist Dolly Alderton has seen and tried it all. In her memoir, she vividly recounts falling in love, wrestling with self-sabotage, finding a job, throwing a socially disastrous Rod-Stewart themed house party, getting drunk, getting dumped, realising that Ivan from the corner shop is the only man you’ve ever been able to rely on, and finding that that your mates are always there at the end of every messy night out. It’s a book about bad dates, good friends and – above all else – about recognising that you and you alone are enough.  Glittering, with wit and insight, heart and humour, Dolly Alderton’s powerful début weaves together personal stories, satirical observations, a series of lists, recipes, and other vignettes that will strike a chord of recognition with women of every age – while making you laugh until you fall over. Everything I know About Love is about the struggles of early adulthood in all its grubby, hopeful uncertainty.

 

Which non-fiction book would you recommend to every woman in their twenties?

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One From the Archive: ‘The Path Through the Trees’ by Christopher Milne ***

First published in 2014.

The Path Through the Trees, the second volume of Christopher Milne’s autobiography, was first published in 1979, and has been recently reissued by Bello.  It starts where The Enchanted Places ‘left off’, but, the author says, this book ‘is a complement [to it].  It is about the non-Pooh part of my life.  It is an escape from Christopher Robin’. 9781447269854

In The Path Through The Trees, Milne presents what he thinks of as ‘a disjointed story – but a happy life’.  He describes the second part of his autobiography as follows: ‘So I live at the bottom of a valley.  I have a small bookshop in a small town; and I seldom venture far afield’.  In the book, his story begins at ‘the point in time when the choice stopped being theirs [his parents’] and became mine’.  It opens with the declaration of the Second World War, when he has finished at his public school and is about to go and study at Trinity College, Cambridge.

A few of the themes which were so prevalent in The Enchanted Places weave their way into The Path Through the Trees, most notably the importance of nature and Milne’s love for his natural surroundings.  The Path Through the Trees is written just as eloquently as the former, but the entirety feels far more grown up.  Milne talks about smoking for the first (and last) time, forays into politics, his joining up with the Army, discovering himself as a person, his marriage, and becoming a father.  Records from his personal diary have been copied verbatim.

Whilst the charm of the first book has not made its way into the second, The Path Through the Trees is still a most interesting read, particularly when Milne reaches his acquisition of the Harbour Bookshop in the small town of Dartmouth.  It is at this point that the book really comes into its own.

One cannot help but feel, however, that the same kind of leap between volumes of autobiography is present here as exists between Roald Dahl’s Boy and Going Solo.  The spellbinding note has been lost somewhere along the way, and sadly, a lot of it tends to read just like any other memoir.

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One From the Archive: ‘The Wonderful Weekend Book’ by Elspeth Thompson ****

When is there a better time to read such a book as The Wonderful Weekend Book than over a bank holiday?  That is exactly what I did.  I had hoped that I could read a little here and there and supplement it with other books, but that didn’t happen in the end.  Instead, I read it from cover to cover in one greedy gulp.  In The Wonderful Weekend Book, Thompson has created such a lovely concept for a piece of non-fiction.  She aims to help her readers to reclaim their weekends back from the mundane tasks which seem to fill them – chores and supermarket shopping being top of her list.

9781848540538Some of the ideas which Thompson has come up with to make the most of weekends are absolutely lovely.  I personally loved the way in which the book was split up into the four seasons, which enables the reader to easily locate appropriate activites to fill hours or entire days.  Thompson’s mini essays are very sweet, as are her introductions. The illustrations throughout are lovely, and I really like all of the different inclusions of recipes.  I was given so many ideas for places to visit, all of which have been entered into my travel journal.  I have picked up my hardback notebook which I began to fill with lovely quotes I came across a few years ago once more, and am now referring to it as my ‘anthology’, as Thompson does in her book.

Despite the general loveliness of this volume, there were a couple of definite drawbacks for me.  The first was that although the lists work well, they are entered rather haphazardly into the main body of text and often split up paragraphs in consequence.  Another downside was that much of the book felt like a plugging exercise for different brands and companies.  Early on in the book, Thompson speaks about buying ‘good bath towels from John Lewis’.  Rather than merely making this statement and moving on, she puts John Lewis’ phone number and website address in brackets right after it, which detracts a little from the text.  Overall, The Wonderful Weekend Book is a wonderful addition to any bookshelf, and will be invaluable for anyone aiming to spend their weekends doing more worthwhile things.  It is a volume which I will be dipping into a lot in future as the seasons change.

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Penguin Moderns: ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail’ by Martin Luther King Jr. ****

I received the wonderful boxed collection of the new Penguin Moderns series for my birthday, and have decided to read and review them in order.  The first book in the collection, and therefore my first review, is black rights activist Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail.  The blurb states that this ‘landmark missive from one of the greatest activists in history calls for direct, non-violent resistance in the fight against racism, and reflects on the healing power of love.’  Despite its being written in 1936, in the margins of a newspaper in Alabama, it still seems incredibly current in the issues and widespread disparity which it addresses.

9780241339466‘Letter From Birmingham Jail’ was written as a ‘response to eight white clergymen in Alabama, who argued that the battle against racial segregation should be fought in the courts – not the streets’.  Whilst discussing at the beginning of his letter why he finds himself in Alabama, King writes: ‘I am in Birmingham because injustice is here…  I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and voices.  I cannot sit idly by in Atlanta and not be concerned about what happens in Birmingham.  Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.’  He has such compassion for those who feel they have been forced to fight for their rights as citizens: ‘It is unfortunate that demonstrations are taking place in Birmingham, but it is even more unfortunate that the city’s white power structure left the Negro community with no alternative.’  King goes on to say: ‘We know through painful experience that freedom is never inherently given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed.’

Along with the issues which King is currently fighting for from his prison cell, he sets out the historicity of black people, and the glaring lack of freedom which they have in the United States: ‘The nations of Asia and Africa are moving with jetlike speed toward gaining political independence, but we still creep at horse and buggy pace toward gaining a cup of coffee at a lunch counter.’  King poses many interesting questions and comparisons upon what makes a law ‘just’ or ‘unjust’, and the terrible things which he has had to face as a black man in a segregated society.

In conclusion to his highly respectful, engaging, and insightful letter, King muses that his creation of the piece was a direct consequence of his being imprisoned: ‘Never before have I written so long a letter.  I’m afraid it is much too long to take your precious time.  I can assure you that it would have been much shorter if I had been writing from a comfortable desk, but what else can one do when he is alone in a narrow jail cell, other than write long letters, think long thoughts and pray long prayers?’

The second piece in this collection, ‘The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life’, was delivered as a sermon in Chicago in April 1967.  This follows on from the disappointment with the church which he says he has in ‘Letter From Birmingham Jail’, when the ‘white church’ is happy enough to sit back and not get involved in the plight of fellow Christians.  The sermon has been transcribed from a recording, and was delivered under the premise that ‘if life itself is to be complete, it must be three-dimensional’.  Circumstantially, this piece is very involved with Christianity.  King’s faith is a constant throughout both of these pieces, but it is more explicitly depicted in this second piece.

Throughout this collection, King’s words are searching and intelligent.  The pieces here are moving, and ought to be read by everyone, regardless of their race or creed.  The proposals which King gives, and the ideas which he thoughtfully discusses, could serve to make our world a better, and more peaceful, place.

King inspires throughout; he shows that a single voice has the ability to change the way in which people act, and challenge how we view one another.  I shall end this review with an incredibly powerful and empowering fragment taken from ‘The Three Dimensions of a Complete Life’: ‘Too many Negroes are ashamed of themselves, ashamed of being black.  A Negro got to rise up and say from the bottom of his soul, “I am somebody.  I have a rich, noble, and proud heritage.  However exploited and however painful my history has been, I’m black, but I’m black and beautiful.”‘

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‘Hannah Goslar Remembers: A Childhood Friend of Anne Frank’ by Hannah Goslar and Alison Leslie Gold ****

Hannah Goslar, a friend of Anne Frank’s and a survivor of the Holocaust, tells her story here in tandem with Alison Leslie Gold. The two met in Israel in 1993, where Goslar now lives, and Gold transcribed what Goslar told her. ‘We did the interviews in English,’ Gold writes, ‘which Hannah had learned as a schoolgirl over fifty years ago. Because I wanted the book to sound like Hannah, sometimes the style is a little cryptic.’  Hannah Goslar Remembers: A Childhood Friend of Anne Frank is, says its blurb, ‘a moving testimony to a girl who survived a terrible ordeal and another who did not.’ 9780747592242

This particular Holocaust memoir is very much aimed at younger readers; it presumes that one knows very little about the Holocaust in its introduction, or of Anne and her diary. The book uses an omniscient voice, in which Goslar herself appears as a character rather than a narrator. This narrative style sometimes verges on the simplistic.

The Goslar and Frank families, both of whom had moved from Germany during the Nazi Party’s rise to power in the late 1930s, were neighbours in Amsterdam for almost a decade, and became very close friends. The account which Goslar provides here begins in 1942, when she found out that the Franks had left their home. They did so under the guise of going to neutral, and therefore safe, Switzerland, and brought this up with various friends and neighbours before they went into hiding in the annexe of Otto Frank’s workplace.

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Anne Frank and Hannah Goslar, Amsterdam, May 1940

A Childhood Friend of Anne Frank feels, in tone and style, as though it would be the perfect accompaniment to the likes of Judith Kerr’s When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit and its sequels. It is a compelling memoir, filled with such sadness, but also a great deal of hope. Of course, it tells of Goslar’s own experiences more than it does Anne Frank’s; we learn about Goslar before, during, and after she and her family were transported to Westerbork, in Eastern Holland. Goslar later met up with Anne Frank again when both were moved to Bergen-Belsen, where Anne sadly died shortly before the camp’s liberation. A Childhood Friend of Anne Frank is moving, and gives an insightful portrait of a childhood friendship, and the war and persecution which tore it apart.